Music, memory and health

What song did you dance to at your wedding or your high school prom? What music makes your heart sing, sigh, or smile?

We may not remember the name of a specific song from a particular time in our lives, but when we hear those precious songs, – or when we sing, hum or play them, memories come flooding back.  Even if we don’t recall who was there, where we were, or what we were wearing, we may again feel a sense of youth and vitality. Music is one of the most wonderful and least understood of all human experiences. Somehow we are able to connect with music in a particular way, and store itin our hearts and minds forever.

What we may have understood intuitively – that music and our experience of life are intimately intertwined – is now being validated by science and research.  Music – both listening to it and participating in it – is beneficial to us physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Music can affect our moods, thinking and physiological processes.  It can help us reduce stress, sleep better, and can evoke strong memories.  It can affect our breathing and heart rate, help reduce pain, and change how we experience life.

Studies have shown that music therapy is used to boost the immune system, improve mental focus, lower blood pressure, and in both storing and recalling information. Just listening to music has positive and often surprising benefits.  Research has shown that listening to enjoyable music for half an hour a day can improve blood vessel health. This has a positive impact on blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Listening to relaxing music can lower heart and respiratory rates, which can aid in improving sleep and increase an overall sense of well-being.  Listening to energizing music, on the other hand, can help stimulate alertness, apromote clearer thinking and improve mental focus.

A study conducted by researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that several sessions of brain exercises designed to enhance memory, mental processing, and reasoning skills resulted in improved cognitive functioning as much as five years later in older people. Studying music does all of these things – and, as a bonus – has also been shown to reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness.

Many of us have heard that engaging in brain “workouts” can help prevent or delay the onset of dementia and keep our minds sharp into old age.  Learning music or practicing challenging pieces on an instrument, are also considered excellent ways to keep the brain fit.

What is so remarkable about music, is that it is such an integral and readily accessible part of our daily lives.